Four Requirements to MAKE a Sheep Lie Down

I tend cattle. Therefore, I have a mandate from God to care for His creation and see to it they flourish. I fancy the word cowherd as my job description because it connects me to the rich heritage of scriptural metaphor for shepherd. Sure, there are subtle differences between sheep and cow behavior. But, the similarities abound. I think they’re worth shouting about.

On the Barnyard of Heaven, I get a close-up, personal perspective on the relationship between a cow and a cowherd, hence a sheep and a shepherd. I hope my stories help you connect the dots and lead you to ah-ha moments in your relationship to our Good Shepherd.

Psalm 23:2 says, “He MAKES me lie down in green pastures.”

This ain’t easy. Phillip Keller highlights this in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23:

“The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met:

  1. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear.
  2. Because of their social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind.
  3. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax.
  4. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.

The unique aspect of the picture is that it is only the sheepman himself who can provide release from these anxieties…It is actually he who makes it possible for them to lie down, to rest, to relax, to be content and quiet and flourishing.

A flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well.”

“And the same is true of people.”

This framework sets me up to explore how my Good Shepherd pours Himself into the task of providing for me, to end that I can lack nothing. His mandate is to cause you and me to flourish. To MAKE us lie down.

It cost him his life.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember: I invite you to join me on a discovery tour into the four requirements needed to MAKE a sheep lie down. Check back for future blogs on this series.

Prayer: O Good Shepherd of our souls, put us at ease as nothing or no one else can do. Amen.

Photo Credit: Herdsman with Cows, in the Distance, a Village, Johann Friedrich Voltz, 19th century

 

Feeling Frazzled? Frenzied? Stick This in the Back Pocket of Your Wrangler’s.

My grandpa was too old, and I was too young

To buck hay bales in the hot July sun,

So we sat by the truck in a puddle of shade,

And he taught me to weave the balin’ twine braid.

Welcome to my front porch. Campfire coffee’s perking over coals. Prop your feet up and join me gazing at the two hawks soaring in a cloudless, powder blue sky, circling in sync over the freshly planted Spring barley field. They’re in no particular hurry. Neither are we. If Eugene Peterson was with us, he’d say:

“Rescue us from a life in which the wonder has leaked out.”

We both take a Deep Breath of Remember, then swap stories ‘bout things that help us grow in our relationship with the Triune God we both love and serve. Here’s mine:

The balin’ twine braid is simple. You take three strands of baling twine, tie a knot in one end and start weaving the strands by crossing the outside one over the middle one, first left over middle, then right over middle, repeat.

Girls grasp this early as they braid their hair for beauty and practicality. For me, growing up without sisters, it took some training. But by age 12, with this simple routine passed down by my Grandpa Fred, I was creating lassoes, climbing ropes, bridles and halters for my horse, and a myriad of other cool farm-boy stuff.

It’s my go-to activity for remembering. Remembering is the crux of my faith. Ever notice how prominent remembering is on the pages of scripture? David rehearses the wonders and acts of God on behalf of His people repeatedly. So does Jesus. How marvelous it is that God remembers His covenant with us and acts accordingly to save, protect, and lead us through the trials and joys of life as He ushers in His kingdom!

There’s something intimate about remembering. Remembering slows us down. Weaving the balin’ twine braid creates a rhythm that breaks through the seductive pull of frenetic, heart-numbing activity.

We both take a few minutes to braid a foot-long strand of rope and tuck it in our back pocket.

Later, we pull out the intertwined rope, fondly notice wrap by wrap, and practice the healing rhythm called remember. Remember where we really need to go for affirmation. We see our Father wrapping Himself around us, calling us His own, telling us He loves us. We see Jesus wrapping Himself around us, smiling, pouring grace into our wounds like balm. We notice the Holy Spirit delighting in us, talking with us, listening to us, understanding us, and never leaving.

There’s another place to encounter this beautiful rhythm. At the end of each church service, our pastor sends us out with a benediction. We, the congregation, extend our hands to receive a blessing from God. It’s the final movement of God’s liturgy. God Commissions Us.

The benediction varies, but here’s an example:

“May the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.”

A good thing to tuck into your back pocket. Maybe your purse. Or, better yet, your heart.

Photo by Ron Silflow
Here’s another perspective on the Balin’ Twine Braid.

 

She’s In Deep Muck. I Call Her Buttercup.

A shudder jolted through my chest. My pupils shrank. Heartbeat raced. “What was that?!”

A black mass surged up through the crusty layer of the pond-sized manure lagoon, then disappeared. I stared in disbelief. I waited. Nothing.

The manure lagoon is the collection reservoir for a year’s worth of barn cleaning. An old tractor tire fashioned into a plow and mounted on a skid-steer enables me to push manure, daily, from the alleyways of the elevated cow-shed to the lagoon 100-feet below.

Muck, manure is a valuable, recyclable commodity for a dairy farm. In the Fall, the liquefied compost is pumped through pipelines and injected into the soil of the surrounding fields, capturing hundreds of thousands of gallons of fertilizer for this sustainable agricultural practice.

Minutes later, after fumbling for my phone to alert my boss to the urgent situation, three more desperate lurches of panic confirmed that it was a 700-pound yearling Holstein heifer struggling for the embankment, thirty feet away.

She’s in deep muck. I call her Buttercup. The effort exhausted her. She sank.

Lush green pasture surrounds the lagoon during early spring days like this one. Buttercup should have been laying in the deep green grass, barely visible, chewing her cud. Instead, she waits, submerged, except for her air gulping muzzle, in a horrible pit, fatigued and hypothermic, needing rescue.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember. Do you, like me, feel a shockwave go through your chest, your gut, when you realize it’s not just Buttercup that gets herself into a horrible pit? Listen to the words of the Psalmist who understood our condition:

I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3, KJV)

My boss and his son liberated Buttercup. It’s a gospel-like story. A father sent his son out to the end of the appendage of the arm of a backhoe extended out over the lagoon, to place a halter on Buttercup and pluck her to the safety of solid ground. She shall flourish.

So, too, shall we. Once again, God’s top-down rhythm, drawing us to daily repentance, breaks into the Barnyard of Heaven. God Cleanses Us.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, so many times you have brought me out of a horrible pit. Thank you for sending Your Son, Jesus, to rescue me, save me repeatedly, and set my feet on a rock. I sing a new song to You. I sing my praises to my Savior. Amen.

Photo Credit: Mire and Clay

 

A Guy Walks into a Barnyard

It’s 2 A.M. The cloudless, moonless firmament reveals a stellar view of constellations and, appropriately for a cowherd, a little galaxy we call the Milky Way.

My barnyard rhythms kick in. Those rhythms I noticed in a Sunday church service and I am now trying to intentionally weave into my mundane, workaday lifestyle.

Why? First, because we are what we love. Second, because there’s a serious gap between what we say we love and what we really love.[1]

First up, God Calls Us. I stop midway between my trailer and the barn, and gaze skyward until awe sinks in. That’s when I hear, with those ears of my soul, God’s Barnyard Call to Worship.

I hear Him say, “You’re Mine! You’re Mine! You’re Mine!”

Those words are crammed with meaning. My Covenant God[2], who knows me by name[3], thinks things about me too marvelous to absorb fully. Things like, I’m His beloved. I’m part of a royal people[4]. I’m His son.

Pretty deep stuff to ponder for a guy in Muck boots and Wrangler jeans, just stumbling out of bed, carrying a thermos of coffee to, eventually, sharpen my senses. But His words go to work in me. They are shaping something in me no less than my core identity. Carving truth in stone in my deep places. Like all good rhythms, whether encountered in a church service or a barnyard, it takes time and repetition for the shaping to work. I wish it would happen quickly, but transformation, in me, seems almost imperceptible. It usually takes a test or trial to reveal if it’s real.

Like me, I’m guessing you, too, love to recognize God’s Presence. To aid in this, have you considered the weather? The wind? Clouds? Hot? Cold? Storm? Calm?

Because I work outdoors for a portion of my days and nights. I noticed the negative impact weather has on my attitude. God can never seem to get it right. You know the feeling, “Snow, again? Too much, too little rain. The crops will suffer. Dang, the manure is so frozen, it’ll take me hours more to clean the barn. Or, it’s too hot/cold in this milking parlor.”

Farm-folk are notorious for complaining about the weather since it has such direct impact on their livelihood. But somewhere deep down, farm-folk get a grasp of God’s Sovereignty as they bend their trust toward Him.

I can point to a new shape, a new love growing in me, transforming my heart by drawing me towards God. One example involves wind. You and I know that His Spirit is wind, breath, life. His Spirit broods on us, lives in us, moves us, guides us, comforts us. Could my perception of something as common-place as wind become a fresh awareness of the Holy Spirit, the very Presence of God I long for?

Maybe you could try this at home. I discovered another little rhythm to incorporate into my trip to the barn and periodically throughout my work day. A rhythm well-suited to God’s Barnyard Call to Worship. I call it, “Where are You, wind?” I pause to notice. Okay, tonight under a sky crammed with stars, gentle breezes waft from the Southwest. I turn to face it. Then, I adjust my stance a few degrees left, then back right, one part of one degree until I know its direction precisely. I feel it on my beard.

I wanted to sense the Presence of God? There He is!

Take A Deep Breath of Remember: In a brief, sacred moment, on the way to work, I both noticed God’s Presence and hear Him speak intimate words to my soul. Such a beautiful rhythm, mirroring a church service, to launch into my labors. I step down into the milking-parlor pit. What could possibly go wrong?

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Psalms 139:5-7, NIV) 

Prayer: O my Creator, my abiding Holy Spirit, quicken me. Amen.

Photo Credit: The Old Homestead, Currier & Ives

[1] These thoughts provided by James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love-The Spiritual Power of Habit, 2016, BrazosPress

[2] For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15, NIV)

[3] The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3, NIV)

[4] But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

“Big Mama gets a Fitbit.” or “Why So Restless?”

Big Mama’s back on her feet after recovery from milk fever, back in the milking-string.

So, Blossom got her a Fitbit for Mother’s Day.

She, and 250 other members of the “Sisterhood of Tail-Swishers” now sport the orange ultra-model with the chic design for cows who move to their own beat.

I love when my friends post their fitness activities on Facebook. Whether running, walking, biking, skateboarding, picking up milk from the grocery store (wink), or maybe a drop-in to the local Buff-n-Svelte athletic club, the technology-derived data fascinates me. Distance, activity, mph, calories burned. Cool! But my favorite part is the GPS map of the route. Sometimes it’s circuitous. Sometimes it’s not, and I wonder, “How’d you get home?”

Personally, I’m not sure I need a Fitbit yet. Not sure if it syncs with my flip-phone? The data I’d generate would be unimpressive. On the Barnyard of Heaven I travel several miles per day, but at the speed of Holstein. My route, feeding and fetching cows, might catch the GPS satellite’s attention, but when I’m in the milking pit, not so much. Twenty-four feet up, twenty-four feet back, repeat. After 6 hours of that routine, the satellite records a black dot.

Say, do you know your Rest:Restlessness ratio? That’s actually one of the main purposes of Big Mama’s Fitbit. It records how many steps she takes and the number of times she lays down each day. For Big Mama, the stats churned out by a computer flags restlessness. “Hey, cowherd, something’s wrong, go check out Big Mama! Is she resting and chewing her cud, ruminating, meditating on what she just ate? Did she eat?”

The only time restlessness is good is when Big Mama is in heat. If that’s the case, I’ll arrange a little rendezvous between Big Mama and one of the best Holstein bulls on the planet waiting for this moment in a small, plastic straw stored in a semen tank in liquid nitrogen at -3200F.

What about the restlessness you and I experience? Could it be a signal that something’s wrong, lacking, or maybe devoid in the depths of our soul? Is it a craving for something, someone, more desirable than our selfish, individualistic impulses? How do we go about fulfilling that holy longing?

St. Augustine captures the issue:

“… for you have made us for yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.”[1]

David provides a solution:

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation;  he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. (Psalms 62:4-5, NIV)

Take A Deep Breath of Remember: I know for me, there’s a constant, often ignored restlessness or boredom roiling in my soul. It’s a two-edged sword. It can lead me to sinful decisions to dull the roar. Or, it can remind me that, though I live in a broken world, God may be wooing me to gaze on His beauty, to be satisfied and at rest, in Him and Him alone.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as I sense the restless urges of a life that feels like wilderness, open my eyes, lift the veil, so I might see Your beauty. Open my ears to hear Your invitation to find my rest in You. Amen.

[1] St. Augustine, Confessions, pg. 3, 2007, Published by Barnes and Noble Books.

Photo Credit: S.A.E. Afikim AfiAct Pedometer Plus

 

Big Mama Asks, “Who’ll Get in the Muck with Me?”

Twenty-four hours after birthing Blossom in a snowdrift, Big Mama’s clamoring for her life.

Diagnosis? Milk fever.

Prognosis? Without intervention? Death.

Location? Muck.

Even at the Barnyard of Heaven, life’s messy. Big Mama collapsed from milk fever, slid a few yards in the muck, and bloodied herself in a futile effort to regain footing. Her bloodstream, her brain, devoid of calcium needed for nerve and muscle function, left her helpless, half dead.

I pictured the man Jesus described in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) attacked by robbers, stripped naked, beaten and left half dead. Big Mama needed a neighbor.

You know the story, but indulge me with the liberty to modernize it. I imagined a priest passing by on his way to Jericho to teach a leadership seminar. “Sorry about the muck you’re in, good sir, but I’m running late and can’t afford to soil my suit. Looks like you could benefit from the principles I’m teaching. Stop by if you can, I’m in town all week.”

Next came a Levite noting the man’s struggle to breathe. “Looks like it’s time to give up those cigarettes, my friend. Stop by and see me for a helpful 5-step program I’m presenting at the synagogue. I’m in town all week.”

Finally, a Samaritan saw the urgency of the stranger’s situation, had pity on him, and got down in the muck with him.

I’m a cowherd. I tag along behind cows I don’t own. I take care of their needs. I know Big Mama needs a strong dose of calcium delivered straight to the jugular vein. But, she’s sprawled out on her side. I first need to reposition her on her sternum, no easy feat. So, I got down in the muck beside her.

Why? Because numerous times, I’ve been the half-dead man in the muck. I’ve had friends, family, pastoral caregivers, even strangers have mercy on me, get down in the muck with me. They prop me up, attend to my thirst, bandage me up and care for me.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember. I hope you’ve experienced this neighborly care, too. I hope you’ve gotten down in the muck with the broken ones in your life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, lover of my soul. Thank you for having mercy on me, for pitying my broken, wretched condition, and for joining me in the muck to quench my soul thirst. I gaze on your thorn-crowned head, your body pierced with nails and spear, beaten, abandoned to die. You died for me. And I live. Amen.

Photo credit: The Good Samaritan, Daniel Borup, Sculptor

Blossom Gets Colostrum

2:30 A.M. Calving Stall. Nonchalantly I squat beside Big Mama, push my forehead into her warm flank to offer reassurance, dodge a few tail swats, and fend off a hind-leg kick, then squeeze a two-liter bottleful of colostrum from a tight udder.

Blossom needs her first critical nourishment present in that first-milk from a freshened cow. Amazing design comes in play during her first 48 hours. During that period the cells of a calf’s gut, typically held together in tight junctions, are loose enough to allow large proteins to squeeze between them and enter the bloodstream.  Colostrum is loaded with just such large protein molecules – antibodies – crafted to protect Blossom from microbes she will encounter until she can produce her own. Germs that can put a quick end to any hope for her flourishing. Blossom’s gut is vulnerable. Colostrum-antibodies are like military Special Forces stealthily patrolling her bloodstream for invaders. They also act as gatekeepers, little TSA agents that coat the cells of her gut to arrest bad-guy’s germs bearing guns, knives and bombs.

I cap the bottle with a big red nursing nipple. Awestruck, I watch Blossom orchestrate her tongue and jaw perfectly to draw in the rich liquid nutrients.

Let the flourishing begin.

I’m lost in wonder. But the wonder stirs up a longing. I wish I had someone that would patrol my deep places and rescue me. Save me. Keep on saving me.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember:

(Hebrew 7:25, KJV) Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

 There He is. My advocate. My resurrected, ascended-to-heaven Jesus pleading for my salvation, having begun, to keep working in me through eternity.

Prayer: Jesus, lover of our souls, fill our veins with Your ever-saving presence. Amen.

Author’s aside:

Some of you are asking yourself if I used the KJV to preserve the word “uttermost” because it sounds like udder-most. Why yes, of course.

Also, I hadn’t traveled by air for 10+ years until two weeks ago. Had to de-board the plane for a second TSA screening before leaving Bozeman airport when a man remembered his loaded gun in his wheelchair. But, hey, I live in Montana.